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How to Play Pai Gow Poker – Tips and Tricks

Pai Gow poker is a variation of poker, based on a dominoes game of the same name which comes from China, and you won’t believe how old it is. Pai Gow poker is played with cards using poker values. Because the rules are so similar to a regular poker, it’s easy to learn how to play Pai Gow poker, and the low risk factor of this game will encourage you to play without a fear of losing. Another positive aspect that comes with the Pai Gow variation is that players don’t have to worry about keeping their ticks and tells under control. The game is set up so that players are betting against the dealer, not each other. This can make the game significantly easier if keeping a cool head is a source of trouble, and often it’s more fun because a sense of comradery forms among players, who are all trying to beat the same opponent.

Pai gow poker rules

CoolCat explains how to play Pai GowBefore picking your cards or placing any bets it’s important to know how to play Pai Gow poker and how it differs from the version you’re probably used to. Each player receives seven cards and makes a five-card poker hand – this much is the same as ever. What differs is how you also create a separate two-card hand that you are simultaneously betting on. Normal poker values apply to the five-card hand, but since there are only two cards in the smaller hand, a pair is the highest ranking value it can get.

In classic poker players are competing against one another, and therefore should remember certain bets while at the table. In Pai Gow poker, the player is going against the dealer so there are only three possible outcomes to the game. Either you, as a player, can have a winning bet, meaning that both of your hands have higher values than both the dealer’s hands. If you have a losing bet, then both of your hands had a lesser value. If only one of your hands wins and the other loses, then it is a push. This results in you getting your wager back, which you can always rebet if you’re feeling lucky.

Since there are multiple hands at play in this game, it helps to know that the cards have dedicated spots on the table. The five-card hand is placed closer to you, in the back, so it is called the “back hand.” The two-card hand is placed in front of the back hand on the table, and is therefore referred to as the “front hand.” In Pai Gow poker, you will almost exclusively hear your two hands referred to as “front” and “back,” so it’s helpful to remember which is which.

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Pai gow poker strategy

Pai Gow poker strategiesWhen learning how to play Pai Gow, you should know your back hand is required to have a higher value than your front hand. So you need to know how hands rank in the game – which is slightly different than normal poker, so it’s worth a quick search on Pai Gow value charts. For more specific strategies, Pai Gow poker requires a sort of multitasking ability; you want the highest hands possible, but you can only win if both hands have high values. If you don’t have any pairs that come out of the seven cards you were dealt, then leave the highest value card in your back hand and place the second and third highest value cards in your front hand. If you have one pair and nothing else to make your back hand rank higher than your front, then you have no choice but to put the pair in your back hand. To make up for this, take your highest value cards – that aren’t a part of the pair, obviously – and put them in your front hand.

If you have two pairs, your decision should be based on what pairs you do have. If your higher valued pair is made up of face cards (jacks, queens, kings, or aces) then you should place the smaller pair in the front regardless. Even if you tried to put the higher pair in the front, the back hand rank requirement would prevent you from doing so. If the bigger pair is made up of 7s to 10s, then you would be better off leaving both pairs in the back on the condition that you could put an ace in the front. If that isn’t a possibility, then put the lower pair in the front. Now if you are dealt two pairs that are both made up of 6s or less, leave both pairs in the back if you can place a king in the front. If not, then you would be best advised to split your pairs.

Now if lady luck wants to tip the odds in your favor and gift you with three pairs, you should take the biggest pair and place it in your front hand. You’re giving your front hand the highest possible value, but still remaining lower in rank than your back hand which now has two pairs. If you have three of a kind, leave them in the back and place your other highest cards in the front. The one exception to this rule is if your three of a kind is comprised of aces. In this case, take one ace and the next highest card and use them for your front hand. The principle behind this dictates that an ace has the highest value, so a pair of aces is bound to be enough to help your back hand win, and an ace in the front hand gives it a fighting chance of winning.
These strategies apply to the most common card combinations you may be dealt in a game of Pai Gow poker. You are most likely to receive one or two pairs, and in that case, you are very well on your way to winning the game!

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General advice

Pai Gow poker tips and tricksLike knowing the top five video poker tips and tricks, players should learn the ins and outs of Pai Gow poker. Aside from specific card combinations, there are some general things to ensure that you’re playing your best game of Pai Gow poker. It was mentioned earlier that you should familiarize yourself with the hand values before playing; this is an important step to mastering the game because of your two different hands. Unlike regular poker – which would result in a simple loss if your hand isn’t ranked as highly as you originally thought – if your front hand ranks higher it will result in a “foul hand,” meaning you will be disqualified from the game and automatically lose your bet. With online Pai Gow poker, if your front hand outranks your back hand, then the game won’t let you press submit. This is a great feature because it prevents you from being the cause of your own loss, but don’t get too used it. If you fall into the habit of being checked by a program, then taking your game to a land-based casino may prove to be a disastrous move.

The low risk quality of the game will affect your strategy for Pai Gow poker as well. If only one of your hands beats the dealer’s, it is a push, so it would be self-defeating to treat your front hand like a trash chute of unwanted cards. The general aim is to create the best two-card hand you possibly can without creating a value that’s higher than your five-card hand while still trying to maintain the back hand’s high value. That being said, if you don’t believe that both of your hands will rank higher than the dealer’s, then do your best to guarantee that at least one hand will win. By doing this you can push, which means you won’t lose any money you bet.

Learning how to play Pai Gow poker is easy, and the game is ultra-fun to play. The best way to master the game is to get used to the feel of the table and memorize the hierarchy of hand values. But the only way you can start winning is by playing the game. If you’re feeling a little nervous then head over to CoolCat Casino and play a few rounds for free. CoolCat Casino has a practice mode that’s perfect when getting your bearings. Once you’ve done that, keep these tips and tricks tucked up your sleeve and not only will you be putting real money on the line, you’ll be winning real money back in no time!

Laurie Sumner

Laurie Sumner is an avid slots player and online gaming enthusiast. Originally hailing from Wisconsin, Laurie rounded up the wagons and headed west to Arizona where she studied hotel and restaurant management before landing a great job in Las Vegas. Today Laurie spends her time teaching what she learned from nearly two decades in the Las Vegas hotel industry and writing articles on the games she loves.